2018: A year of L hell, ferry launch and more

Vehicles and pedestrians squeeze between construction barriers along East 14th Street. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The year 2018 didn’t lack for major changes in the community from the transformation of East 14th Street into a (potentially full-time) construction zone to the maiden voyage of a ferry with a stop at Stuyvesant Cove to the axing of a courtyard full of beloved trees in Stuyvesant Town. There was also what appeared to be an uptick in crime perpetrated by youths and homeless men in Kips Bay as well as some political intrigue, with Congressional fixture Carolyn Maloney seeing her first serious competition in nearly a decade.

For more on the year that was, as covered by this newspaper, read on:

  1. There is no doubt at this point that 2018 was the year of L hell. (The day after Town & Village went to press, Governor Cuomo announced his alternative proposal.) Long before the dreaded L train shutdown even would begin, residents of the street have been impacted by the loss of 60 parking spaces, constant noise and clouds of dust from the vehicles going in and out of the construction area along the north side of the street, all while construction on developments goes on along the south side of the street. Local elected officials have been pushing the MTA for some concessions and have won a few so far, like better lighting along the construction barriers, sound reducing blankets and the installation of air quality monitors. But the effort has remained to reduce evening and weekend hours of work to give neighbors — some suffering from respiratory problems — a break. At one point, a lawsuit that had been filed to stop or delay the L train work due to accessibility and congestion issues was expanded to include the misery felt by residents whose apartments face the construction zone between Stuyvesant Town and the East Village.

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Christmas visit from Con Edison scammer

By Sabina Mollot

A Stuyvesant Town resident who got a Christmas visit from a scammer posing as a Con Ed employee alerted Town & Village to the incident, in the hope of warning neighbors to be careful.

As the resident, who lives at 453 East 14th Street, told us via email:

“Around noon a very large, white male, with a slight speech impediment was ringing doorbells on my floor and asked for my neighbor to show her Con Ed bill. I felt suspicious as he had rung my bell as well. So in a move of safety and solidarity, I opened my door and told him to leave the building, that he is not allowed to be here. I notified security. Not sure if they found him. Obviously not the brightest scammer since we don’t get Con Ed bills!”

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What all those spray-painted markings on Avenue C mean

The markings, along the southeast perimeter of Stuyvesant Town, denote multiple projects. (Photos by Eileen Togashi)

By Sabina Mollot

Last month, a resident of Stuyvesant Town alerted us to some sprawling spray-painted markings along the sidewalk and street on Avenue C from 14th to 16th Streets. The geometrical markings made the resident concerned about possible demolition work, with some of them appearing on the cobblestones lining Stuy Town.

As it turns out the markings have to do with a number of projects, Rick Hayduk, general manager of Stuy Town, said this week.

Some are related to the ongoing L train construction along 14th Street, others to Con Ed’s Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) well excavating project in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village, which is now completed and the property’s own heat and power project, which was announced months ago.

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Squirrel causes blackout in upstate NY

A squirrel-related blackout is unlikely to happen here, Con Ed says. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Just when you thought all squirrels did was chomp on unsuspecting children in Stuyvesant Town and damage trees with their incessant gnawing, they’ve also begun causing massive power outages.

According to a story in the Daily News, officials upstate discovered that a pesky squirrel caused a string of power outages that left more than 10,000 in the dark last weekend.

“The rodent somehow managed to make its way into a substation in Lancaster, a Buffalo suburb, Sunday, knocking out three substations, New York State Electric and Gas said,” the News wrote. Fortunately, for the residents in the area, power was restored three hours later.

But with the threat of more extreme wintry weather ahead this weekend, Town & Village turned to Con Ed to ask about the possibility of such a thing occurring in a certain Manhattan neighborhood that has not only a power plant but an abundance of Eastern Greys scurrying about.

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Con Edison will pay $636G in settlement from East River oil spill

Oct3 Con Ed and Stuy Town

Con Ed’s East River substation south of Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As a result of a transformer malfunction at a Con Ed substation that caused 30,000 gallons of insulating oil to leak into the East River last May, the utility has entered into a settlement with the state, and will be paying $636,015 in damages and penalties.

As part of the settlement with the Department of Environmental Conservation for violating of New York State Environmental Conservation Law, Con Ed will also be required to continue the cleanup effort. The company will also be expected to assess the petroleum containment compliance at its 13 waterfront substations located throughout the boroughs.

The May 7, 2017 incident happened at the utility company’s Farragut Substation in Brooklyn, with the DEC and the U.S. Coast Guard quickly descending on the scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn to try to minimize the contamination of the river. While the substance, dielectric fluid is similar to mineral oil, as opposed to petroleum, it was still foreign to the East River. Following the leak, booms were placed in the water and absorbent pads were placed along the shorelines where much of the fluid had seeped.

The settlement payout will go towards funding for local environmental and restoration efforts. Out of the $636,015, $100,100 will go to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy for its water-based environmental education and kayaking programs, and $71,000 in natural resource damages to New York City Audubon for its Governors Island common terns nesting project. The remaining $464,915 will go to the New York State Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund (Oil Spill Fund), New York State Conservation Fund, and the State General Fund.

“At Governor Cuomo’s direction, New York continues to prioritize improving and protecting the State’s waters,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The funding that came out of DEC’s enforcement action and penalty against Con Edison highlights the positive investments that can be made after an unfortunate event. Settlement investments through DEC’s Environmental Benefit Projects Policy will improve and restore the environment and natural resource damages funding serves to make the public whole.”

In response to the settlement, which the DEC announced on Wednesday, Allan Drury, a spokesperson for Con Ed said, “We are pleased to have resolved issues stemming from this incident and to support valuable environmental programs.”

Drury added that there was “no long-term impact” to the East River as a result of the spill. “The cleanup process mentioned in DEC’s announcement relates only to what is left of the spill on Con Ed’s substation property, not in the river,” he said.

Most Stuy Town businesses affected by electrical fire reopen

The First Avenue shops were barricaded off as Con Ed continued to work at the scene last Thursday. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Following the manhole fire under Stuyvesant Town that caused the evacuation of stores from 18th to 20th Streets on First Avenue, all but one of the businesses have reopened.

The one that didn’t, Ibiza Kidz, was hit the hardest in terms of smoke damage. While cleaning and airing out her shop and assessing damage last Thursday, owner Carole Husiak said she lost her almost all her inventory, including what was in the basement. Additionally, none of the clothing items could be restocked since they were ordered six months ago from wholesalers and are now out of stock.

Husiak said she’s since worked with vendors for new clothing to be brought in quickly. And the scooters and helmets previously in stock are still okay.

However, it isn’t clear yet when the store will reopen since the cleanup effort in coordination with her insurance companies, is ongoing.

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Con Ed asks ST/PCV, Gramercy and Flatiron residents asked not to use unnecessary appliances during repairs

Sept6 Con Ed repairs

Con Ed workers on Broadway and 23rd Street in Flatiron (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Throughout the day on Thursday, Con Ed has been asking customers to curb their power use, while making repairs to electrical cables.

At around 9 a.m., when Con Ed announced the repairs, a spokesperson said the utility hoped to restore any power to lost to customers by the evening.

By the afternoon, Con Ed reduced voltage by five percent in the neighborhoods of Madison Square, Gramercy and Flatiron in Manhattan as a precaution to protect equipment while repairs were being made.

Con Edison has asked customers within the confines of East 31st Street to the north, East 14th Street to the south, Fifth Avenue to the west and the East River to the east not to use appliances such as washers, dryers and, unless needed for health or medical reasons, air conditioners, and other energy-intensive equipment. Customers have also been asked to turn off lights and televisions when not needed until the problems are resolved.

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Explosion snarling sales, say Flatiron businesses

A masked police officer directs traffic on Broadway on Monday. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While the so-called “hot zone” of businesses potentially impacted by the burst of an asbestos-covered steam pipe has shrunk since last Thursday, even businesses in Flatiron that were soon able to reopen say their customers have not returned.

Since the day of the burst, the streets directly surrounding the burst pipe site have remained barricaded off as Con Ed and various cities continue their investigation. Additionally, the streets have been teeming with police and other emergency responders, some wearing masks. The police have mainly been directing traffic to prevent errant photo-snapping pedestrians from getting too close to the work site.

Meanwhile, numerous buildings in the neighborhood remained empty of residents and workers as Con Ed conducted inspections for debris from the explosion.

On Monday, Town & Village spoke with employees at several businesses located on Broadway between 20th and 22nd Street about the lack of foot traffic.

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Impacted businesses advised to file claims with Con Edison or insurance

Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito speaks to building owners at a meeting held on Monday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Flatiron businesses owners impacted by last week’s steam blast were told on Monday night that they may have some recourse for their losses in the form of insurance claims or claims with Con Edison.

Representatives from the utility, the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Health, Small Business Services and the Department of Environmental Protection offered updates on the ongoing investigation and clean-up effort during a meeting at the Clinton School in Union Square on Monday night.

Joseph Esposito, the commissioner for the Office of Emergency Management, said that as of Monday night, 17 buildings had been cleared for reoccupancy and the OEM announced that 16 additional buildings had been cleared by Wednesday morning, with 12 still needing to be cleaned and checked before they can be reoccupied.

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Air asbestos free, city says, but evacuated buildings still off limits

July26 Con Ed cleanup

A Con Ed crew cleaning up the street on Friday (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

The air is asbestos-free, the city said, after testing samples following the steam pipe explosion, on Friday evening. While some debris samples contained asbestos, it’s unlikely people exposed will become ill since “asbestos-related illnesses usually develop after many years of exposure,” according to an update provided by the mayor’s office and the Office of Emergency Management. The city also said irritation to the eyes, nose and throat from debris is possible, and recommends anyone with those symptoms contact doctor.

Meanwhile, the city is still keeping people out of the “hot zone” in Flatiron.

While the area continues to be cleaned up, the hot zone boundaries include:

  • Fifth Avenue from 19th Street to 22nd Street (midway down the block on 19th Street and most of 20th and 21st streets on the west side).
  • The entire block on East 20th and 21st Streets and midway down the block on East 19th Street.

Neighborhood residents whose building have been evacuated (49 buildings in total) are still displaced. Forty-four buildings had their facades visually expected. However, none were cleared for residents to return home as of Friday at 5 p.m. as testing for asbestos continues. At this time, the city doesn’t have a number as to how many buildings have been contaminated. Once a determination is made, the buildings’ facades will be washed. Con Ed has appointed outside vendors for this project.

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After asbestos confirmed, investigation continues in Flatiron

July19 Expolsion info at 22nd Con Ed

Con Ed employees accepting bagged clothing at 22nd Street and Broadway (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

In the wake of Thursday’s steam-pipe explosion, the city has confirmed the presence of asbestos. Sixteen inspectors from the Department of Environmental Protection have been tasked with investigating the presence of any asbestos in nearby buildings while the site of the explosion is also being monitored.

On Friday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality health advisory for the whole city through 11 p.m. The agency’s warning noted that active children and adults as well as anyone with respiratory problems reduce “prolonged or heavy exertion” outdoors.

The public is still being warned to stay away from the immediate area, where there are still emergency crews at work.

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Steam explosion in Flatiron shuts down nearby streets

By Sabina Mollot

Emergency responders are still trying to find out the cause behind an early morning explosion in the heart of the Flatiron District. The blast occurred at 6:40 a.m. on Fifth Avenue and 21st Street, sending a massive gray cloud shooting dozens of feet into the air and causing traffic shutdowns from 19th to 23rd Streets from Broadway to Sixth Avenue.

Eleven buildings were evacuated and surrounding streets were off limits to residents and workers until police began opening some streets at around 8:40 a.m., and office buildings began letting employees back inside. Town & Village’s block on West 22nd Street was one of those affected.

Town & Village driver Ray Pimentel was in his truck with stacks of this newspaper on his way to the office when he heard the massive “Boom!” nearby. Pimentel said had he not been caught at a red light on Sixth Avenue, “I would have been right in the hole in front of Chase Bank (on Fifth Avenue). I’m alive because of five seconds.”

He stopped his truck in the middle of Fifth Avenue and waited there for the Fire Department, which he said arrived in about seven minutes. Oddly, the blast didn’t smell too strong at that time.

“It was like cooking gas, you know like when you’re doing a barbecue, clean, not too bad,” he recalled.

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Con Ed hits gas line while drilling at 6 Peter Cooper Road

Con Ed works on the gas line behind 6 Peter Cooper Road on Tuesday. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As part of drilling work associated with the plan to build at least 16 contaminant recovery wells in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, Con Ed hit a gas line on Monday, causing a shutdown at 6 Peter Cooper Road.

The shutdown of the gas line feeding the building was announced by StuyTown Property Services in the morning via a flier.

In it, SPS CEO Rick Hayduk warned that at another building in Stuyvesant Town, something similar happened last year and it was almost six weeks before the gas was restored.

“Because of regulations and safety protocols, restoring the gas is a complicated process that requires considerable cooperation and coordination by us, residents, contractor and city agencies,” said Hayduk. “Inasmuch as we would like to get gas to every apartment and the laundry room as quickly as possible, we cannot compromise resident health or safety.”

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Con Ed to begin work on gas plant remediation wells

The gas works and storage tanks of Con Ed’s predecessor company in 1890. (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents appeared more concerned about communication regarding Con Edison’s plan to dispose of toxic waste left behind from the property’s days as a manufactured gas plant than about the project itself during an information session hosted in Stuy Town last Thursday evening.

“We understand that it has to be done,” resident Sherry Kirschenbaum said. “Rick (Hayduk, the property’s general manager) said they will be working with Con Edison throughout the project. Our concerns were allayed.”

Con Ed expects the wells to remain in place for the foreseeable future but representatives said the most disruptive part of the project will be the drilling.

“We’ll be starting the drilling (during the day) once people are already at work and at school and the sonic drill rake we use is more of a hum,” Con Edison engineer Ken Kaiser said. “If there are complaints about noise, we could use some kind of baffling to muffle the sound.”

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MGP recovery wells will be installed soon in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village

The gas works and storage tanks of Con Ed’s predecessor company in 1890 (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

Con Ed announced on Wednesday that there will be a public information session on June 7 from 6-8 p.m. in Stuyvesant Town on the ongoing Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) remediation project. NYSDEC and Con Edison will be available in the Election Room located at 451 East 14th Street to answer questions from the community.

As Town & Village has previously reported, as part of the MGP cleanup in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, a total of 16 “passive recovery wells” will be installed in specific locations around the property. The goal is to look for any remaining underground contaminants stemming from the days when the property was home to the gas works and storage tanks from Con Ed’s predecessor companies.

According to Con Ed, the work is expected to begin work the week of June 11, and drilling is expected to begin the week of June 18 and will probably last four weeks. Work days will be from 9-5 p.m.  Ten wells will be placed near East 20th Street and Avenue C and East 17th Street and Avenue C and six will be located near East 14th Street and Avenue C.

In an email, the company warned that there will be fenced off work areas surrounding wells and there may be periodic noise from two drills and possibly odors.

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